Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Backpacker Diaries: Volume 1

So no I haven't been eaten by a shark, or bitten by a poisonous spider, or fallen off a cliff, or died some other rather tragic death. The internet at hostels is just really terrible, and non-existent in some places… hence the falling off the face of the earth act I've pulled the past couple of weeks! And the few times I do have a decent (decent being a relative term) I've figured that calling mum and dad to let them know I haven't died in one of the aforementioned ways was in order. 

While the internet I've got now is in no means good, it's strong enough that I think I may be able to upload this! Photos however are completely out of the question. It would take about a day of leaving my laptop on to load a photo here… so for now writing it is. When I'm in Sydney next week I'll be able to finally upload photos to Facebook and here so I can actually show you all what I've been doing, woohoo! So take this is a very brief summary, highlights of each place if you will.

Hot. Hot hot hot. Did I mention humid? And hot. But absolutely wonderful. So laid back and chilled out, no one rushes anywhere and life isn't taken seriously at all. Completely acceptable to spend a day by the lagoon doing absolutely nothing, which I most definitely did. The rainforest is also stunning, did a day tour through there which involved playing in waterfalls and exploring the Tablelands, great fun! Had a fabulously inappropriate, politically incorrect and hilarious tour guide names Gilly from Barefoot Tours who made it the best tour I've ever done - I really can't recommend that tour enough. Also went out to the Great Barrier Reef for a day of snorkelling and boating which was a great experience. The reef is stunning! And while I didn't find Nemo (which I'm still heartbroken about), I did manage to find a reef shark that swam by me about 2 meters away… yes I'm pretty sure my heart stopped beating for a minute. There's also a wonderful art gallery in the town with an impressive little collection of local works, sandwiched in between the hundred of requisite tourist shops of course.

Townsville/Magnetic Island
More fondly known as "Brownsville", Townsville is simply the gateway to Magnetic Island via the ferry that I, like many travellers, simply pass through. Magnetic Island however is a great little place, well actually big island, but only half of it covered by roads and walking paths. Did tons of walking (everything is far away) but it was all beautiful. Hugged a koala. Yes hugged a koala. One of the high points of my life I have to say. Rented scooters and scooted around the island for an afternoon which was great fun as well. Definitely a new way of looking at the island! Explored the many beaches and coves, and had sunset beers from the deck at Base X hostel overlooking the ocean. Base X being another place I highly recommend, absolutely beautiful location and really cool cabin-style individual dorms right on the beach. 

Airlie Beach
Also known as the gateway to the Whitsunday islands. However unlike Townsville, Airlie is actually worth the stay. Great little beach side town with tons of cafes and bars that make for a good vibe and nightlife. Beautiful lagoon by the ocean to spend a lazy day at, and tons of little artists shops and such to keep you and your wallet busy. Definitely an easy place to spend a couple of day puttering about which is exactly what I did! Going out and sailing the Whitsunday's was the highlight by far though - absolutely amazing. Visited the famous Whitehaven beach, slept on the deck under the stars, snorkelled some incredible reefs, and had tons of fun with our little family living on the boat for 2 days. All that awesome stuff made up for the pouring rain the first day (yep, it's rainy season up here, and we had terrible luck with it) and the seriously cramped bunk area in the boat itself by a long shot!

Fraser Island
International heritage sight, one of the largest sand islands in the world and the longest beach highway in the world. Need I say more? 3 awesome days of exploring the island was fun to say the least! Explored the many lakes and trails in the inner part of the island, zoomed down the beach in our bus, hiked out to the most beautiful lake on a massive sand dune, swam in the naturally made champagne pools, and the highlight definitely being taking a scenic flight over the island. Best part of all of it was doing it with a group of awesome people, which made it laughs the entire way and good fun in the evening after the days adventures were done. It's amazing how much people influence and improve a tour! I still can't believe how many wonderful people I've met from around the world on this trip, definitely one of the best parts by far.

Another beach town, little bit more posh than the others but with a great Natinal Park and beach. Watched the sun set over said beach, saw a wild koala in the Park (debatably a clump of leaves, but we're sticking with koala) explored a local market during a rainy day, and probably to coolest/most strange was watching the lighting of the town for Christmas! Complete with carollers, tons of lights, a Santa in shorts and Mrs. Claus in a bikini on the beach. Definitely no white Christmas to be found here, but it's a really cool experience!

Such a great city. I still love Melbourne the most of course, but Brisbane does come quite close. Beautiful lagoon (they really like those over here), botanical gardens and tons of galleries and museums for me to explore. All built around a winding river - taking the boat tour down it is definitely worth it. The city was alive with Christmas too which was nice, decorations everywhere and a massive tree in front of the city hall. Lots of places to explore in and around the city, I feel like I hardly made a dent in the 3 days I was there! Oh well, another excuse to come back right? Just incase I didn't have enough already…

Byron Bay (AKA current location)
Beach town. Hippie town. Surf town. Party Town. Chilled-out-to-the-max town. All of the above. Been here for a day now and I already don't want to leave! This place has just got the best vibe, and everyone is so happy. I can easily see why most backpackers end up stuck here for a few months, some never even leaving! Surf lessons tomorrow, beach day today and a bike hire booked for the weekend to do some exploring down the coast. Watched the sun rise over the beach this morning with a local coffee in hand, life is definitely good. Very good.

All in all it's been an incredible adventure so far! I can't believe this is actually my life sometimes, it seems too good to be true. So doing my best to just live in the moment and make the most of every second, because I know time will just keep flying by. Can't wait to see what else is in store before I hit Sydney, this trip just keeps surprising me with possibilities :) 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thanksgiving takes Australia

Being away from friends and family for so long really makes you realize how big of a part they play in your everyday life. Thank goodness for things life Skype, Facebook and Snapchat for keeping in touch with everyone back at home because I honestly don't know what I'd do without it! That being said I've been lucky enough to make some incredible friends here, friends that I know I'll have for life. I joke that they're my little Aussie family, but it's not really a joke because they actually are.

Come Thanksgiving time, I was thinking about how weird it would be to not celebrate it at all! Considering how big of a thing it is back at home, it was hard to picture no one even knowing what it is. So Jesse and I (he having livd in America for 12 years when he was younger) decided we needed to show these Aussies how Thanksgiving should be done. Despite the fact that my family never has time to do a traditional turkey, ironic I know.

We on the other hand went all out. 2 pumpkin pies were made the day before in advance, no one had ever had pumpkin pie so I had to make sure they were perfect! Then the day of it was cooking time for the turkey and stuffing, mashes potatoes, buttermilk biscuits, green beans, corn on the cob, and homemade gravy. We were determined to do it all!

Cooking away in the over, om nom nom 

And somehow, we actually managed to pull it all off! Apparently Jesse and I make a great kitchen team because we had everything hot on the table at 6:30 and we were told it was all perfectly cooked. Must have been good because the table went quiet the minute everyone started eating, always a good sign. 

For me though Thanksgiving wasn't about the food, or eating it all, though that is definitely fun. It's about getting people you love together for a dinner, sharing some laughs and having a great night. And we definitely did that! We all laughed till our stomachs hurt, and talking way past the food was done and kitchen cleaned, until the last bottle of wine was empty. Then we played games, which was just the best fun to top off an awesome night. I can honestly say out of everything I've done here that was one of the best nights I've had! I'm so thankful to have met all of these wonderful people and be able to call them friends, and that was just the best way to say thank you to all of them for welcoming me into all their lives. And that was a lot mushier than I meant it to be! Goes to show how much people really can have an affect on your life in the best of ways. 

One of my favourite pictures - we're pretty adorable aren't we :D

TasMANIA Day 5

Ah the last morning of a trip, always bittersweet. Was definitely excited for a proper hot shower at home but was not at all ready to leave Tasmania! For as much as all the Aussies make fun of it, Tassie really is an absolutely incredible place. At least it wasn't too long of a drive back to Hobart that morning, so we allowed ourselves a little bit of a sleep in since we were all pretty exhausted from the late nights and early mornings. Bad combination that I always end up falling into when travelling! Oh well.

We decided to make a trip to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) that's just outside Hobart because we had time before our flight and it's meant to be an incredible place. It's definitely unique to say the least, considering the main level is at ground level, and then proceeds to go 3 levels underground! It's quite the experience as you start from the bottom and work your way up, and definitely feels like a maze at time. The art in there was a bit strange for the most part, some of the contemporary stuff just really wasn't my cup of tea. But that's not to say there wasn't some truly amazing pieces! One room in particular played with the idea of the tickers in a stock exchange room and projected the noises and numbers around on all the walls - literally kept me completely drawn in and interested for a solid 15 minutes trying to figure it out and see everything. Definitely a very cool experience and worth the trip!

I like the simplicity of the sign right when you walk in

Beautiful view from the terrace outside

After the gallery it was unfortunately time to head to the airport to catch out flight. After the most ridiculous adventure to find a petrol station to fill up the car, involving a 20 minute detour off the freeway, we found out that Hertz actually has pumps right in front of the return area. Another oopsies moment. But we had plenty of time before the flight so it was no worries! Flight ended up leaving a bit late too so we had even more time than expected.

But with Tiger it's true you're never guaranteed to be on time, so after being put in a 20 minute holding pattern above the airport to give other airlines priority we were all happy to land. Then we find out we have to let another flight use the gate to board, so we sat in the airplane on the tarmac for 45 minutes. Needless to say everyone was pretty grouchy by the time we got off. And apparently this is common with Tiger! So taking that into account, along with the miniature seats with no leg room, and the fact that Jetstar is only about $5 more on most flights, I definitely think I'm going to take a pass on flying with Tiger from now on. 

All in all though it was a fantastic trip! It was good fun being able to chose to do whatever we wanted with the freedom of a car, and I had great company of friends for the trip. No one killed each other and we all came home with smiles so that's always the best sign :) I still can't believe how much we managed to get done in a fairly short trip, but we covered all of the major things and I'm so happy that we decided to head to Tasmania! It's so off the beaten path (part of it's charm) that you don't get all the tourists, instead you're left with the stunning nature and spectacular views that even my camera doesn't do justice to. 

Safe to say we all had an awesome trip! One last goofy shot on the plane because that's how we do it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

TasMANIA Day 4

And here I thought we'd been getting up early the other mornings, it was a 5am alarm this morning! The idea was to watch the sunrise over the beach, so definitely worth it. Unfortunately it was still completely overcast and a little rainy so we couldn't actually see the sun, it was more watching the sky slowly getting lighter which was still really beautiful. There's nothing quite as powerful as standing out on the rocks in the ocean with nothing in sight but endless expanses of water and coastline beaches. definitely one of my favourite places. While it managed to pour rain while we were packing up the tents (of course) it did get sunny for a little bit so we could take some photos!

Little tents all tucked away behind the trees

Stunning view from our own private little beach

This is what goes on all the way down the coast - absolutely spectacular

After dropping out camping gear off it was time to head to Bicheno, home of our last hostel. Turns out Bicheno is an incredible little town thrown right on the hillside of the ocean! Stunning views from everywhere you look, including the porch of our hostel that had a view right over the beach the was the towns coast. After a quick stop for lunch and to drop stuff off at the hostel it was off the Fraycinet National Park to see the infamous Wineglass Bay.

Easily the best restaurant view I've ever seen

Wineglass Bay can be split into two different parts: the lookout and the actual beach. Being the adventurers that we are, we decided to do both! Might as well do everything possible when you're somewhere because you'll never know when you'll be back. Getting to the lookout was pretty easy, 40 minutes up and fairly steep but there was steps cut into the ground and it didn't last that long.

One of few shots that actually has me in it! Wearing my AOII letters with pride. But the Bay is clearly the star of the show here.

The hike down to the beach was a whole other story. Ridiculously steep and rocky for the first half, it was an adventure to get down, let alone get back up it afterwards. It was a little over an hour down, and about 2 back (indicator of how though it actually was) but 150% worth it! The beach itself is absolutely stunning, and goes on for ages. It's easy to see why it's rated one of the best beaches in the world. A couple of the guys actually had the guts to go swimming, power to them because the water was freezing cold. And I have a pretty high tolerance for cold water from swimming in Lake Superior. It was nice to just have some time to really enjoy and appreciate where we were and the magnitude of that, everyone went off on their own for a bit and had a little moment. Mine of course was out on the rocks at the point of the beach, have I mentioned I love rocks?

Picture perfect beach, literally. 

By the time we got back to the car park it was almost dark, and we were the last ones there! But a day's good till the last drop of daylight so we always made the most of that. We managed to find a little place in town called the Hungry Pig (or something along those lines) which was awesome pizza's and cheap ice cream, best combination after a long day. Then it was back to the hostel to finish off the beer, quite a challenge considering how much we had left. Needless to say our cards games that night got particularly funny and everyone was in a very good mood. Fun was to spend the last night for sure!

TasMANIA Day 3

Up and out of the cabin in record time this morning, considering that there's 6 of us to get moving actually being on time for things is an accomplishment! First mission of the day was to find somewhere to breakfast, because turns out our makeshift dinner form the night before really wasn't filling come morning time. We decided to suck it up and wait for a slightly bigger town called Sheffield (much to the Brits delight) that was about 40 minutes away. After touring the quaint little town nestled in between mountains (really was a beautiful place) we settled on getting some pretty awesome food from a little window in the convenience store. The random places always seem to have the best food it seems. 

From there is was off to Launceston for a bit of a day trip to split our very long drive in half. One of the bigger cities in Tasmania meant there was quite a few things to do! We somehow failed at finding the "Batman Bridge" despite being at the exact spot the map said it was. Who knew a massive bridge could manage to hide somewhere? We decided instead to head up the the basin and tour around there for a bit. A ride on the chairlift over it was definitely in order, such a cute little thing with a great view! Did a little nature walk after that and explored around the basin, saw everything from a mama and baby wallaby (smaller version of a kangaroo) to a bunch of live peacocks roaming around.

Definitely a little bit worrying dangling over the water on such a rickety little chair!

Best thing ever - see the little joey tucked inside the mama's pocket?! Eeep so cute :D

After that it was time to hit the road again! Good thing we had such a nice car because we sure spent a lot of time in it. We were making our way to the Bay of Fires on the east coast to spend the night. Turns out the drive there was even more of an adventure than the one the day before! Apparently crazy skinny, winding switchbacks are a common thing in Tasmania. And it started pouring rain so all the roads were slippery. That's a drive that I don't particularly want to do again. Finally made it to St. Helens (town right by the Bay of Fires) quite a few hours later because the rain really slowed us down. We were renting camping gear from a hostel there so we needed to pick that up and set everything up before dark. Campgrounds were surprisingly farther than expected and also full of people, so it was quite an adventure to find one far away from everyone that was still sheltered from the wind (there was a massive storm about to roll through). We ended up lucking out on a site about 10 steps away from out own private beach - definitely one of the nicest places I've ever camped at. Made up for the fact that we had old school canvas tents to sleep in and it was raining for the entire night from the minute we started setting up! Thankfully we had thought of picking up a tarp so we set that up over the campfire to have a makeshift shelter to cook and eat under. Have to say that everything tastes better cooked over a campfire, and despite the rain it was tons of fun!

Irony was that I was the only girl, and the most experienced camper. So the fire for cooking was my job and I think I did quite well!

We did have a little scare though of hearing bushes rustling all of a sudden right next to us, in the pitch black. Turns out it was a Tasmania devil! Apparently it's almost impossible to see them because of a disease that's been killing them off there so we were incredibly lucky. It was however a little too close for comfort, because they can be very aggressive, and we had a bunch of food that it probably very much wanted to eat. Needless to say everyone was a little afraid of venturing into the bush for a pee before bedtime… 

TasMANIA Day 2

Today was a very early morning start so that we could pick up the rental car and hit to road at a good hour. There was a long drive ahead! I had the wonderful adventure of trying to dry myself off after my shower with a washcloth though because genius me forgot to bring a towel… Let's just say that one is a challenge that I don't want to attempt again!

Our rental car was actually a pristine silver SUV, the Australian make that everyone drives that I can never remember the name of. The logo is a lion and that's about all I've got. We were so happy to just get a car at all though after Bipeen had gotten a call the day before saying that the car we were supposed to be getting was actually was returned damaged. Thank you Hertz for sorting that out!

Don't think we ever agreed on a name, pretty sure we just called it her the entire time…

After a quick stop for groceries and breakfast we hit the road North out of Hobart to eventually make out way to Cradle Mountain National Park. It was a stunning drive for the first half, full of rolling green hills dotted with little towns. We made a quick break in the gorgeous little town of Perth nestled between bright green grass-covered hills for coffee and booze (already had food covered, that was the other necessary part). After that we figured we'd suck it up and head straight to the park instead of our cabin first, best to get as much out of the short hours of daylight as possible right! That drive was way more interesting though, teeny tiny little lanes of switchbacks winding through the mountains. It proved for some absolutely stunning views but it was definitely a little scary seeing the cliffs right off the side of the road. 

View from one of the lookout points - so beautiful and it went on forever!

Managed to make it to the park mid-afternoon despite almost running out of gas. We assumed we'd eventually hit a town on the way to fill up… not our brightest idea that's for sure. Thankfully the park entrance station had a gas pump! We decided to do a hike around Dove Lake, it promised incredible views and it fit with the amount of time we had. It was a 6.5km hike so it wasn't small by any means, and actually quite challenging and steep in some places! It was absolutely incredible though because you not only got a view of the infamous Cradle Mountain, but you also got a view of the entire lake from all angles as well as some waterfalls that are nestles in between the rocky faces. 

I swear this isn't photoshopped at all, it was just that breathtaking

By the time we actually managed to finish our hike the sun was on its way down and it was time to find the cabin. The directions we had said it was about a 1 hour drive away, which seemed a little strange, but it had to be the right place because it was the address right? Wrong. Leaving the park we saw a sign saying Cradle Mountain cabins and campground, the same name of the place we were apparently staying, so we were confused to say the least. After much debate we decided to see if we could get ahold of someone (the office was closed because it was after 9pm by this point), only to find that there was a key and map with our groups name on it in the late arrivals box. Thank goodness we stopped there and didn't listen to google maps! That would have been a whole lot of driving for no reason what so ever. And turns out the cabin was actually very nice, and spacious too, for what we had expected. 

One thing we hadn't thought of was food. We figured we'd stop at a store for dinner on the way to the cabin, but because we didn't actually need to leave the national park we were about 45 minutes away from the closest town. And everything would be closed by then because it was a Sunday. Oopsies. So we had a wonderful dinner of toast with jam, chips, cookies, and bananas. That was all of our "car snacks" from earlier that day so thank goodness we at least had that! It was surprisingly filling so no one actually went to bed hungry which was great. After much chatting and attempts at playing some card games it was time to hit the hay because tomorrow would be an early morning again (I'm starting to see a pattern with that). 

TasMANIA Day 1

Day 1

And so begins the adventure! Step one: get to the airport. This always proves to be much more challenging that it should be because Tullamarine airport is pretty much out in no mans land. My travel buddies were all coming from their residence on the Clayton campus of Monash so I was meeting them at the train station in the city to figure out how on earth to get to the airport from there. Turns out all we needed to do was catch another train and a bus and we'd be there! Too easy right? Yep, turns out that bus stopped running at 5pm, and it was 6:30 at that point… Good thing we have given ourselves tons of time to get to the airport because we had to get back on another train, ride that to the end and catch a different bus. But we finally made it 2 1/2 hours later!

We also learned that the Tiger Air terminal is at the farthest possible end of the airport, and it the sketchiest terminal I think I've ever seen. More on my thoughts about Tiger later. Flight was only 15 minutes late so we didn't have long to wait until we were off! Arriving in Hobart was quite a change as the airport is about 1/4 of the size of the Melbourne domestic terminal, it's miniature. Apparently the taxi's hadn't thought ahead though and there was a group of us waiting at the airport for cabs for a good half hour. And when it's already 10:30pm you really just want to get out of there and to the hostel. Finally caught a cab and made it to the hostel, check in and attempted to find bunks because it was actually a 20 person room! Not going to lie that many people in one space is a little hot and smelly, but as long as there's a clean bed I can curl up in it's all good.

None of us had eaten since much earlier that day, so food was definitely in order. After realizing we hadn't listened very well at all to the front desk's recommendations of where to find some food, we wandered around for quite a while until we finally stumbled across the harbour front which was full of bars and such. After ages of attempting to decide on a place, none of us are very picky at all, we finally chose as cool little irish pub with live music. Was good fun, not terribly expensive beer and we managed to find a table to ourselves to have a chat.

Realizing we still hadn't actually found any food, we managed to find an all night chip shop which I swear had the best chips and gravy ever. That or everything tastes amazing when you're that hungry. Also I've converted to saying chips now instead of fries because it saves me the funny looks. Plus travelling with Brits and always hanging around Aussies makes that sort of stuff start to wear off on you very quickly.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Back in Action!

Hello there world!

Explanation for my ridiculously long absence from blogging: I was locked out of my account up until 2 days ago. Major frustration.

Basically is run by your google e-mail account. My google account was hacked, which meant security immediately shut it down. Simple solution to re-gain access? Answer a ton of security questions about things like contacts and sent e-mails in your inbox. My problem? I don't actually use that e-mail for anything, it's only for access to my blog. So I couldn't answer a single question. Oops. So I've spent the past month and a half arguing back and forth with google assistance people that this really is my account. And the result is finally success! However it took ages, which meant no blog posting over the past month and a half for me. So I have tons of catching up to do, and have been writing posts on my laptop over all this time to post on here when I finally re-gained access. So tomorrow will be updates day! There's at least 6 posts headed your way tomorrow finally to catch you up on my adventures :)

Cheers x

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Shrimps on the Barbie?

So somehow I've been in Australia for 2 months now, don't ask me how because time has flown by. It's strange actually, it's like I've only been here for a week sometimes, but other times it feels like I've lived here for years. It all really depends on the situation though I've learned, but more often that not it's a strange mix of the two. BUT that's not the point of this post, I tend to get sidetracked and all introspective sometimes incase that wasn't already obvious. Since I've been here for 2 months, I've learned a fair bit about Melbourne, but also Australia and it's culture. And whoever said you don't get culture shock when going to another english-speaking country was completely wrong! We may both speak english but we're definitely both separated by a common language. 

It's been an adventure learning all of the slang (they really can be quite lazy with their language) and different sayings and expressions! I still get funny looks most days for using some "foreigner" expression as they've come to be known, or pronouncing something terribly wrong because of my Canadian accent. So I thought I'd share some, for anyone planning on travelling to Australia it might be helpful, and more so it's just pretty entertaining.

*note: this list is going to keep growing, because I know I've forgotten a ton of things. I need to start writing them down as they actually happen because there's multiple ones a day that I always seem to forget.

-snag: a sausage (uhm?)
-arvo: afternoon (like I said, they really like shortening words...)
-tea: dinner (though not everyone uses this, it depends on the area you're from and your family)
-Craigeburn: Australian pronunciation turns this into CragIEburn, never fails to make me laugh
-Geelong: Australian pronunciation is Gelong, if you say GEElong you will be ridiculed (not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything)
-touch wood: equivalent to saying "knock on wood"
-Tassie: Tasmania (pretty obvious)
-CBD: the "downtown" of a city (central business district, if you say downtown no one will know what you're talking about...)
-Oz: term for Australia that is only used by tourists/wanna be Australians, no one that's from here would ever actually say that.
-AFL (Australian Rules Football): the centre of the known universe during the winter/spring, especially in Melbourne. It's basically a religion. You will learn it, pick a team, follow it, and love it. More to come about this in a soon to come post about my experience going to a game. 
-as: used commonly after descriptive words, that's cool as, sweet as, crazy as. It adds emphasis, and erases the need to continue with the rest of the sentence. 
-Melbourne will always say they're better than Sydney. Sydney will always say they're better than Melbourne. That's a road that you don't even want to go down haha.
-whitetail spiders: deadly little suckers that are very common in Melbourne. Also known as the spider that was on my kitchen floor the other day. Also have a bite that causes your flesh to eat itself. Yep.
-music festivals: they're massive, everyone goes, and they're epic. They put anything I've ever been to shame, and I'm so stoked for the 2 upcoming ones that I've got tickets for!

AND last but not least
No one will ever ask you to "throw some shrimp on the barbie". I hate to burst that bubble, but not only is it just a tourist stereotype, shrimp here are called prawns. So yes, you might hear throw some prawns on the barbie, but chances are it would be snags instead.

The funny thing is that I've already noticed when I talk to people back at home that I've picked up some of this slang. And apparently my pronunciation of some things is morphing a bit too. So who knows maybe I'll even be saying mate by the time I get home! That should be an interesting mix with the "eh" I've got from home and the "ya'll" I still use from Texas... my poor confused vocabulary seems to be getting more entertaining the more I travel and I love it. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Packing tips and tricks

I've been lucky enough to have grown up in a family that loves to travel almost as much as I do, so we've taken a fair amount of trips since I was little. From ski trips to weeks away at gliding clubs; we've pretty much covered anything from weekends away to trips long enough to needing a suitcase big enough for me to fit into. One thing about my family though is that learning how to pack light and effectively is a must, well actually that's a little bit more my mom's talent (sorry dad!). I however am not the best packer, at all, but I am significantly better then I used to be. Since I'm "all grown up" now I've done quite a few trips on my own, and I've gotten down a pretty good list that will adjust to almost any length of trip that I can throw at it (this trip to Australia being an exception, slightly embarrassed by how much luggage I brought...). So here's my thoughts on what to bring, and a few tricks that have been passed down to me on how to pack a suitcase effectively and save space.

The amount of times this happens is just ridiculous...

1. Always leave extra room in your suitcase! First off stuff will never fit back in the way it did when you got there, don't ask me why but it never does. Second, you will always end up bringing back some extra stuff with you, especially on long trips. If your suitcase it stuffed to the brim when you leave, your doomed.

2. Stuff your shoes with socks and/or anything you don't mind getting a little bunched up and wrinkled. That was all that inside space of the shoes isn't left empty and wasted.

3. Double bag any kind of liquid. There will always be that one bag with a hole in it no matter how well you check them, and hand cream is not an easy thing to get out of clothes.

4. Lay things out flat instead of rolling or bunching the up. It takes up a lot less room and stuff won't get as wrinkled!

5. Put any breakables/liquid items in the middle of your suitcase (double bagged of course) so that they are protected by the clothes around them.

6. If you need a change of clothes at the airport and can't fit them in your carry on, put them at the top. That way at the airport you don't have to lay out your suitcase and dig through it to find what your looking for, you just unzip the top and it's sitting right there.

7. Lay belts around the outside of the suitcase instead of rolling them up. Just learned this one from mom and it takes up so much less room!

8. Pack things in order of what you think you will need from top of the piles to the bottom. That way if there's no where to unpack where you're going you won't have to go rummaging through your suitcase every morning.

9. Pack versatile things. A basic white t-shirt can be worn around a flight line with short and sneakers, jeans and a purse for casual dinner, or put with a skirt, jewelry and heels for a night out. Bring shirts that can be worn with any of the bottoms you have/bring bottoms that can go with everything. You never know what you're going to want to wear and if you pack a bunch of specific outfits you will never end up having the combination that you're looking for.

10. Even if you're going somewhere hot (south western Texas for example), bring a sweater. You will most likely end up wanting it on the plane to cozy up in if you don't have a blanket, but if you plan on going out to dinner or a movie the air conditioning will almost always be turned on way to high to compensate for the heat outside and you're going to freeze. Just make sure that it's something that can dressed up or dress down.

11. Ladies; don't pack all of the makeup/hair products/shower stuff that you own. It takes up more room than you would think and you will never use it all. Bring the basics! Things that can serve multiple purposes are ideal, such as shower gels to double as shaving cream and combination palettes of makeup. Chances are wherever you're going you will be spending way more time enjoying yourself than sitting in your room getting ready.

12. Don't buy massive suitcases unless you're okay with paying more to fly with them. Yes I have a suitcase that I can fit into and yes it's awesome for holding tons of stuff but if I fill it up completely it is always over the weight limit. As in $150 for those few extra things that you really didn't need. Not worth it!

13. Always bring running shoes and workout clothes. You never know where you'll end up going and chances are at some point you will need them. Wether it's for a workout at a hotel on a road trip, an impromptu hike somewhere or just going for a run to watch the sun rise they will always come in handy.

14. Leave a pocket in your carry on to put your passport/ticket/ID all together. Leave this pocket for only those things and always put them back there. Then you avoid being that crazy person tearing apart their bag at the counter trying to find it all!

15. Pack cash. Visa cards are great but they can be a pain depending where you're going. For example small cafes and restaurants often have minimum purchase limits and american gas pumps won't accept Canadian visa's. If you have some cash you can at least survive and pay for things until you figure out what the easiest way to pay is wherever you are. That being said don't carry a lot of cash in one single place. If all of your money and cards are in one purse and it gets stolen things don't look to good.

16. If you're going somewhere that speak a different language, make a translation book your airplane reading. Being able to show up to another country with a few basic sentences in their language will not only make your life easier, but people will also be a lot more welcoming when they see you putting the effort it. If only Australia had a language book for all of their slang!
Now you're packing like a pro!

So as of now, that's all the helpful things I can think of. I'm sure the more I travel the more things I'll have to add to this list! Headed to Tasmania for a week at the end of the month and we didn't want to pay to check baggage so we've got to pack in a backpack carry on. Challenge accepted :D

Phillip Island Adventure

A few weeks back now I had the chance to take a trip out to Phillip Island with a university tour company. It promised to be an adventure packed day full of awesome sights, and it definitely delivered! Despite having to leave the house at a ridiculously early hour to make it to our coach bus on time for the 2 hour drive there, it was more than 100% worth it.

Turns out the 2 hour drive was actually much shorter because of the lack of traffic (yippee!), so we had time to stop at the chocolate factory on the island. Yep definitely worth it! Such good chocolate, oh my goodness. Then it was off to a beach right on the other side of the bridge to the island for a photo stop, some down time, and the opportunity to watch pelicans being fed. During the down time we got to learn how to play with a footy ball (footy being Aussie Rules Football, an epic sport that we need everywhere in the world), and some ever learned how to throw a boomerang! Matt definitely won at that - managed to throw and catch one. It was pretty epic.
One of soon to be many beach stamps (yes, we had to do it)
Pelican feeding (they know exactly where to be at what time for food, pretty impressive)

The it was off to the infamous surf beach, Woolamai beach for some seaside adventures! We walked all the way down the beach (quite a challenge in sand as it turns out) and hiked up to a lookout point that had an absolutely stunning view. Needless to say many photos were taken and jaws dropped along the way. I think everyone had a little quiet moment on the cliff as well to just take in the view, I know I did and that really helped make the fact that yes I live in Australia right now really hit home.
Stunning beach. Can't wait to come here in summer!
Great day with great people :) Beautiful view to top it off!

Then it was the long trek back to the bus where we started off. Took the path through the hills on the cliff this time instead of the beach for something different which turned out to be quite the little hike. From there we went to go do a typical Aussie beach hobby, plan in some sand dunes. Yep, we all felt like little kids again. We were also taught by our wonderful local tour guides how to jump off sand dunes! We all did just regular jumps, they took it to the next level doing backflips and crazy things. Best feeling every flying through the air, and the sand totally breaks your fall, I'll definitely be doing more of that the next times I'm at the beach!
Thanks to Scott I've actually got proof that I did it! Pretty sick picture. 

From there we drove off to a gorgeous lookout point with the sea lion islands. Perfect timing with the sun on it's way down. The drive there also takes you through the underbrush that is home to a very many wallabies which was awesome to see. They hop impressively high! But move way to fast to get pictures of when you're in a moving bus. 
Stunning lookout view on the coast

After that it was off the see the little penguins! Probably what we were the most excited about, as they are one of the main attractions of the island as a whole. They have stands set up along a beach so you can watch these little guys come home every night, and let me say it's every bit as adorable as you'd think. These miniature penguins (known as the fairy penguins) make their way from the ocean up to the sand dunes past the beach every night at sunset, each have their own little family burrows. And while it's a bit of a struggle for them to make it through the surf, once they do it's impressive how fast they waddle across the sand. You're not allowed to take pictures sadly because it interrupts their natural habitat, so here's one from google just so you all can see just how tiny they are!
Eep so cute :D

After that it was pretty late on in the evening so it was time to head home! Compared to the energized and noisy bus ride there, the one home was almost silent because pretty much everyone fell asleep. It's amazing how tired you get after a day outside adventuring. All in all in was a fantastic day though! Definitely a place I need to head back to when the weather gets even better in the summer :)

The Life of a Fine Arts Student

So I'm now almost halfway through my first semester here as a fine arts student (yikes!!), so I figured I'd be able to give a pretty good overview of what that's been like so far. The amount of stuff we've done, and crazy business of this semester is really the only excuse I've got for being so terrible at updating.

As for a basic overview of the classes I'm in so that this all makes sense, here we go:
-Visual Practices Studio: First 6 weeks of the semester spent in a sculpture studio for 4 hours a week, and a jewelry studio 4 hours a week. Second 6 weeks of the semester spent in a painting studio for 4 hours a week, and a glass studio 4 hours a week. Plus a lot of outside the studio work!
-Photography: 4 hours a week in the photography studio. Plus the time spent taking the images for the projects outside of studio time.
-Communications and Creativity: I had to take one "art theory" course to get certain credits back home at Carleton. Pretty interesting class actually, 2 hours of lecture a week looking at the concept of creativity.

Having just gotten past the 6 week mark, that meant having to finish final projects in sculpture and jewelry, a large photography project and an essay in the communications class. SO much to do! But got it all done and quite please with how they came out.

Sculpture was a huge challenge for me! I'm used to working in 2-dimensional mediums like painting and drawing, so thinking in 3-dimensions was a massive creative jump for me. But I really liked having to think outside the box and expanding my limits as an artist, it was a great experience. The studio itself was an awesome place to work, every kind of sculpture tool imaginable (from welding to woodworking to a bronze casting kiln), all put in a massive studio with a solid wall of windows overlooking the racecourse and ocean in clear view.
This is only a tiny part of the studio!

Needless to say it was an inspiring place to work. I started off with the idea of metal, and different types of it and how they interact with each other and took that into my final work. It was a series of sculptures with the theme of expansion, and left up to our own personal take on that theme from there. The works I came up with were abstract to say the least, but I'm pretty impressed that I managed to create some 3-dimensional works! Here's 3 of them, turns out the picture I had of the 4th one tuned out blurry unfortunately. 
First work that inspired the rest. For my gliding friends out there the idea behind it was a thermal :)

Complete fluke that ended up changing drastically from what it was meant to be, and actually turned out pretty cool!
This one was actually done out of card stock, and then spray painted in silver. 

Jewelry on the other hand was a bit more of an adventure. Let's just say the teacher was a little bit...different...and none of us were really clear on what we were meant to do. It was supposed to be about the "process" and not the "end goal", so the stuff that people came up with was definitely creative! Technically what I produced was a neck piece, however nothing made in the class is exactly wearable. Think less jewelry, and more small sculptures that interact with the body somehow.
Final piece sitting on my artist visual journal, the chain lying next to it was made by hand and that's what goes around the neck of a person.

Photography has been a fantastic challenge, and I've learned more in that class about cameras and photoshop in 6 weeks than I've ever been able to teach myself. Having to always shoot in manual mode really hones in your skills on actually creating art with your camera, a challenge that I have readily accepted. We have also learned a fair bit about photoshop and how to non-destructively edit images; it's absolutely amazing how the smallest things can make a photo looks 100 times better! The project that I submitted was 3 different components, each consisting of 5 images. The first theme was people and places, my take on it was Melbourne through the eyes of a tourist. The second theme was the human condition, my take on it was how women use makeup as a mask on themselves. The third theme was the object, my take on it was how everyday objects interact with our own skin and bodies. For fear of loosing control of my images (which I am quite proud of) I won't upload them here. I will try and get an overview shot of the folio however at a later date! 

And that sums up my art classes as of now! I'll do another one of these at the end of the semester to show the work I've done in the new studios :) Absolutely love that I get to make art in class and get university credit for it, I still can't believe this is real life sometimes. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

About that time I failed at blogging...

So first off, I would like to say sorry for falling off the face of the earth for the past few weeks as far as my blog is concerned. Seeing the dates of my dates of my last posts made me realize just how terrible I've been with posting.

Which brings me to the second thing, there will be more posts soon to come! I'm taking tonight off from being social to get some sleep, but more importantly to write some posts! I've got about 5 half written posts from the past few weeks (sad, I know...) so I will be finishing all of theses and probably adding a few more as well. And they should all be up by the end of the weekend :)

Point of this being, more to come very soon! Like today and tomorrow soon. Yay!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Great Australian Bucket List

So ever since I found out that I was officially coming here on exchange, I've been adding notes to a mental "bucket list" of things that I wanted to do while I was over here. Needless to say there was a lot of them, a lot being an understatement even, and I figured it was about time that I actually wrote them all down. This has been the past couple of weeks of adding things as I remembered them (my memory is really terrible sometimes) but I know that there's still some that I'm missing. So let's call this a work in progress for now... But I'd say it's a pretty solid work in progress. I can't wait to start doing some of these things!

  1. Learn to surf
  2. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
  3. Go skydiving
  4. Hug a koala
  5. Go to the Melbourne Cup
  6. Go to the Melbourne International Film Festival
  7. See Tazmania
  8. See the tiny penguin colony
  9. See the 11 Apostles
  10. Backpack the Gold Coast
  11. Go to an opera in the Sydney Opera house
  12. Attend a gallery opening
  13. Go to a concert
  14. Camp put at a music festival
  15. Go to a cricket match
  16. Go to an Aussie rules football game
  17. Go to a rugby game
  18. Do a local brewery tour
  19. Do a vineyard tour
  20. Camp out in the Outback
  21. Go sailing
  22. Go soaring
  23. Go flying
  24. Visit the Freemantle market
  25. Go kiteboarding 
  26. Magnetic Island full moon party
  27. Visit as many National Parks as possible
  28. See something deadly
  29. Walk around Uluru
  30. Islands on East and West coast
  31. Road trip along the coast
  32. Go snowboarding
  33. Stay in a hostel
  34. Become a regular at a Melbourne coffee shop
  35. New Years in Sydney
  36. Epic kangaroo picture
  37. Make it across to Perth
  38. Make it up to Cairns
  39. Spring break in Bali/Southeast Asia
  40. See 360 live
Feel free to comment or give me suggestions of things you think I should do! Wether it's something that you know from actually travelling here, or cool things you've seen in tour books or National Geographic issues I'm always open to new suggestions.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Week Already?!

So here I am, trying desperately to finish this blog post that I started about 5 days ago, and it just wasn't happening. I had all of these assorted paragraphs trying to break down the past week into different aspects and describe each, but it just wasn't working. For those of you who don't know me, I am a perfectionist to say the least, and that post was no where close to my usual standards, it didn't really sound like me. And tonight, sitting in bed snuggled with a blanket, book and mug of tea I realized why; what I've learned and experienced in the past week can't be broken up into categories and taken by hour (well literally yes it can, but not effectively), it's a much bigger picture than that.

My first week here was mostly spent doing my orientation with Monash Abroad during the day, and the Monash Student Association putting events and activities on during the evenings. To say it was a busy week would be an understatement. And while we learned so many things about the school, working and travelling in Australia, the history and culture of this amazing city and how to be an effective ambassador for our home countries and universities (all wonderfully useful information), there was two things said to us that really hit home with me.

The director of the study abroad program should be commended for being so effective in the way he speaks. He did not talk for a long time, but what he said in those few minutes made me think more than anything anyone else said (sorry to the others, but it did!). We he first got up, he just looked around the room for a moment, taking it all in. We had just gone through the process of calling out the list of 40+ countries represented in that room by the 400 students in the theatre, and the magnitude of that was still in the air. "This is our own united nations", he said after a few words of welcome, and it is incredibly true. Looking around the room and realizing how much of the world we have present here is incredible; from every race, country and walk of life we have all come together in this experience. Not only that, but we could all talk and laugh with each other without a second thought. That first day hardly anyone knew each other, and we were all in the same boat of having to make new friends from scratch. What was amazing was that all it took was asking where someone was from, and bam there goes the conversation. You had groups of people from 10 different countries standing and talking over coffee, laughing about jet lag and comparing this place to their own homes. The amount that I learned just from talking to these people this past week is unmeasurable. This really is our own United Nations, working together and sharing in this experience.

The second thing that the director said that struck a chord with me was that when you take full advantage of this experience, "you will be able to travel around the world and never have to pay to sleep because there will always be an open door with a couch for you". Thinking about this for a minute it is incredibly true. Being put in a situation like this you make friends with the people around you, and in an exchange program those people are from all around the world. Literally around the world. From Brazil, to the UK, to Spain and to China we've got it covered. These are friends that could be bridesmaids at your wedding, future roommates, life-long pen pals, people you loose touch with for years and reconnect by chance, or better yet, life-long friends. These are the people that are going to help shape who you are, how you look at the world and experience things. They will share you adventures in a new city, understand when you're missing home more than anything and pack up a car and roadtrip with you on those long weekends off. These people have the power of making a permanent impact on your life, wether it be a passing day of fun or a lifetime of friendship. And this has really made me realize just how much people matter. We always say friends and family are the most important things in life, but do we really mean it? Do we really realize what we're saying or is it just a reflex? I think it takes being pulled completely away from all of those people, starting from ground zero or square on to really understand that. And it's hard, not having that support system around is a huge shock to the system, but building a new one is one of the most rewarding and amazing things. It makes you look at yourself, see what kind of person you are and have to find what works with that. If you can be open and honest with yourself, about yourself, there is nothing stopping you from making that new system. And yes, while it may take some time (I don't think I've ever eaten this many meals alone before!), it will all be worth it.

That's another things I've learned; if you can't live with yourself how do you expect anyone else to live with you? If you can't accept who you are and be true to that, how can you expect anyone else to accept you and do the same? There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing things on your own. Who says you can have dinner in a nice cafe, with you, your food, a beer (so many amazing local beers here!) and a book? It's actually pretty fun! That's not really something I would ever have done at home, because there's always people around to see and we default to doing that. It's when there's no one around all of a sudden that you realize that it's okay to just be you for a while. Why not go an adventure the city for a day, take a camera and a bag and not come back until the sun is long set and your feet are sore. That's what I've been doing and it has been the most incredible time. Sure it would be fun to have someone to comment to about the art on the walls in the gallery, or the funny things the pigeons do in the park, or the outrageously lavish stores in the downtown core, but that's what a camera is for. I have friends here to talk about all that stuff with later on, but in that moment I can take a picture. Documenting it for myself and for anyone else that is interested. A photo captures a moment and, when done right, and emotion, which is why I love photography so much. I have been capturing my days through pictures, sharing them with my SIM card and (when I finally find my camera cable) all of you.

So as of right now those are the couple things that have really stood out to me over the past week. That's not to say there aren't many more, and actually I'll probably think of at least 3 more the minute I post this and climb into bed. But hey that's what the next post is for right? Next post is going to be Thursday probably to sum up my week adventuring and exploring my new city. I've got pictures to put up as well so don't worry, they're coming! But for now I have to say good morning to everyone back at home, good afternoon to all of you in between and good night to everyone in Oz.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Whole New World

Stats so far
A day and a half : the amount of time that I've been in Melbourne
A week : how long I should have been here for the amount of new things and info I've picked up
14 hours : amount of jetlag that I'm trying to manage
2 Australian guys : my new roommates (also the only people here that know much about me at all)
UK students : some of my new favourite people here, they're so funny!
40 : amount of countries represented at our exchange student orientation
3 : number of times I've gotten lost (even my good sense of direction can't help me when I don't know the city at all)
3 : number of types of public transit (trains, trams and buses, it's crazy!)

So the expression "separated by a common language" has become incredibly real to me here, it's quite entertaining. Here's come things I've learned
-rubbish : garbage (no one uses garbage here)
-petrol : car gas (if you say gas they assume bodily functions...not so good)
-mate : friend (actually used commonly, definitely need to pick up that one)
-robe : closet (you get really funny looks if you say closet)
-Coles : grocery store (not a book store like it is back home)
-Myki : Melbourne equivalent of Ottawa's presto card transit pass (scan every time you get on and off public transport, also way more expensive than it is back home because of the amount of transport services)
-ARF : Australian Rules Football (follow it, be loyal to your team, and you had better understand how its played...still working on all of those parts - it's nothing like football back home)
-snow skiing : skiing (if you don't put the snow in front they assume water skiing apparently)
-ice hockey : hockey (if you don't put the ice they assume field hockey, or as they call it grass hockey)
-cheers : bye, seeya later, talk to you later (actually spoken and not just used to sign off e-mails)
-how ya goin : what's up (when starting a conversation with it add "hey" in front)

And that is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more that I can't even remember right now, I know this list is just going to keep getting longer and longer. It's quite fun to learn all of the expressions though! I definitely need to pick them up and start using them so I can come back to Canada with them. 

For now that's all, not to say I don't have a million things to write (I could probably get a pretty good novel going to recap the past few days) but I can't bear sitting at a computer inside writing today when I could be out exploring! I've got the afternoon off since registration was so fast this morning which means it's time to go buy some of my own sheet and pillows. Kmart here I weird buying this kind of stuff when I have perfectly good sets back in Canada. Then tonight we've got a walking tour of the Melbourne street art (beyond excited for that) and a trip to the casino/arcade complex in the city! So many things to do, the days just don't have enough hours for all the fun and adventures. More to come soon, and I promise I'll get on posting some photos as soon as I find all of my cables!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Let the Adventure Begin

Travel update #1, brought to you by my over tired self writing on the plane from Toronto to Vancouver... and posted from the Sydney airport thanks to their wonderful free wifi. 

This is one of those moments when my life doesn’t feel like it’s real. I’m currently sitting on an Air Canada 777 from Toronto en route to Sydney Australia (and then to Melbourne) with a brief stopover in Vancouver. Yes, that’s right, Sonia is finally going to Australia!!

For those of you who know me, or just happen to read this blog, this is probably not a surprise to you. This trip has been an long time coming; the paperwork process started back in September 2012, and it has been a content list of things to do since then. But it was all worth it in the end of course! However what only family and good friends know is that this has been a dream of mine since somewhere around grade 11 when I learned that exchange programs were actually not as impossible to achieve as I had previously thought. This has been one of those huge dreams of mine that I worked towards from that point onwards, knowing that I needed to keep my marks high and stay involved. I have to say, sitting here in the airplane with the setting sun outside of my window and the adventure of a lifetime just ahead of me, all of that hard work was more than worth it.

My check-in at the airport earlier this afternoon was definitely an adventure to say the least however. Here I was thinking I was so organized with my folder full of organized paperwork and tickets, boy was I wrong! Word of warning to anyone getting a work or study visa for another country: if you renew your passport after you have gotten your visa, it will not be transferred over to your new passport. You would think it would, but no, it does not! How do I know this you might ask? Well being a good little citizen I renewed my passport a few weeks ago because it was due to expire less than 6 months after I would be returning to the country. The problem was that I applied for my Australian visa with my old passport about 2 months ago, because I was told to do it months in advance because of processing time. Other word of advice: getting an Australian student visa from Canada is incredibly painless, it takes about an hour to fill out the form but you get your visa within a few days if it’s done properly! So I get to the airport with all of my visa paperwork and ticket information, and for some reason when they’re scanning my passport there is no visa showing up. New passport problems-it wasn’t connected to the old one. And normally you get to keep your old passport, in which case they would have been able to scan that one and all would have been well, however I got some new employee when I renewed my passport and she insisted that it needed to be shredded. Thank you passport Canada for that one. Luckily though, because most Australian visa’s are able to be done online, the people at the airport desks can actually put through a new visa for you right then and then, problem solved! Hopefully. I don’t want to jinx it by saying it’s all good until I’m standing on the other side of Australian customs at the airport. Problem number 2, go figure, was overweight baggage. It is so bloody hard to pack for 6 months in just a few suitcases! I had accepted the fact that there was no way I would be able to get it all into my one allotted checked baggage and would need at least 1 or 2 more, but I had not planned on them being overweight. Thank goodness I ended up getting a wonderfully helpful ticket agent who helped me manage the weight between the bags which took the extra charges down to a much smaller sum. Not to say it wasn’t a decent charge, but some battles you just can’t win!

Okay, so check-in adventures aside, I finally made it to the gate to catch my flight from Ottawa to Toronto. Somewhat ironically security was an absolute breeze to get through. A combination of an very efficient security crew and the fact that I have become a master at packing/dressing to get through security as painlessly as possible (leggings and a long shirt means no pockets or metal). I can’t actually remember the last time I flew to Toronto, or had a flight that short for that matter so it was pretty entertaining to start descending about 15 minutes after we had reached altitude. Gotta love short hops on efficient planes! Had a few hours in Toronto to browse the shops (so many more than Ottawa) and stretch my legs (the extremely long flight to Sydney looms ahead of me) and get some food which was quite nice. You forget to eat sometimes in all the last minute packing and it struck me all of a sudden why I felt like i was about to pass out at 6pm, I hadn't eaten anything since early in the morning! It’s a good thing that I didn’t have to talk to many people until I got food in me though, I tend to get “hangry” (hungry angry) at a certain point and having to make polite small talk with people usually does not bode well. I did have two wonderful older ladies sitting next to me though en route to vegas (you go girls!) who wanted to hear all about what my future life was going to be like down under.

That actually got me thinking, what is my life going to be like down there? I actually don’t have an answer for that one. Which is kind of nice actually, the promise of a blank canvas full of possibilities that are yet to be decided is amazing! I’ve had some many people tell me I must be so scared or nervous about going to a foreign country all alone to a life that is a completely strange concept to me. That question always catches me off guard because that is the exact opposite of what I have been thinking and feeling! I guess that’s just my personality, but excitement and happiness have always been the dominant feelings as my departure date got closer, not anxiety and fear. I would be lying to say there wasn’t a whole lot of stress and craziness leading up to it, but hey everyone needs a little bit of chaos sometimes. It’s when people ask that kind of things that you realize some of your more dominant personality traits; independent, adventurous and determined seemed to be what everyone was always telling me about my attitude towards all of that. I mean yes, I’m going to be on the other side of the world from all of the people I love and am used to seeing all the time, but it’s not like I won’t be able to talk to them. Skype is an absolutely wonderful invention, snapchat fills in the hole for people you can’t text and of course there’s always e-mail and facebook! We are so blessed to live in a time with so many means of communication. Now all of that is not to say it isn’t hard to leave everyone behind. There has been quite a few tears shed and countess tight hugs the past weeks that were difficult to say the least. But, as I tell people, it’s not like I’m moving there forever, I’ll be back in January! You won’t even have time to miss me before I’m back. 

However now I have to give into my ever drooping eyelids and try and take a nap. So this is the end of the surprisingly long first travel update! I will try my best to get another one done on the flight to Sydney, considering I’ve got 15 hours to kill that shouldn’t be too hard. 

Also as a side note, being the photography junkie that I am there will probably be many pictures posted on here both with and without posts to accompany them. I find most of the time the good old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" is dead on. Once I have gotten settled in Melbourne and will have all my camera cables and such I'll upload the ones from the trip over!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Australia here I come!

Yesterday I received probably the best and most exciting e-mail that I have ever gotten. Better than any funny joke, trip confirmation and possibly even better than finding out that I got into University. Yesterday I got the e-mail telling me that I have been approved and accepted to go on exchange next semester to Melbourne, Australia :D Cloud 9 doesn't even begin to describe my excitement, I am completely over the moon!!

Ever since early high school I have dreamed of studying abroad, and it was always something I knew I wanted to work towards. That was part of the reason that I chose to come to Carleton: our exchange program works with hundreds of universities around the world, and you pay Carleton tuition instead of the university you're going to (which makes a huge difference let me tell you). So I always knew I would apply for exchange, so last semester in the fall I began looking into the process and seeing what needed to be done. Needless to say it was a lot of work, and I have been actively working on this since way back at the beginning of October. The application itself involved a lot forms and signatures, along with 2 short essays and 2 handwritten letters of recommendation n by professors. Now that was an intimidating amount of things to get together! However I always try and make a personal connection with my professors which proved to be extremely beneficial when it came to this. So by the end of November I had everything together and ready to go, and in the application went. Now it was time to wait.

Ever notice how time crawls by when you're waiting for something? While I won't lie and say that the past months have gone by so slowly (I actually have no idea where all that time went), that application was always in the back on my mind. Waiting and waiting for that fateful e-mail.

Then came the beginning of February, and the first e-mail. This one informed me that I was approved to go on my exchange, WOOHOO! However I would have to wait until the end of the month to find out where I was going. You have to put your top 3 choices of host institutions when you apply, and while they try and give you your #1 it is not always guaranteed. These were mine:
1. Melbourne, Australia
2. Trento, Italy
3. Lancaster, England
And while I would have been overjoyed no matter where I got sent, I really did want Australia. The reasoning behind that being primarily because of the program offered there. I am going to Monash University, and they offer a joint degree in Fine Arts and Business. Perfect for what I want to do (run an art gallery)! This means that I can take the fine art classes that I love, but also take the business classes like marketing and accounting that are necessary for running a business. If I could hand design a university program that would literally be exactly what I would do! The other plus side to going there is that there is no language barrier. And while it is a similar culture in some ways, it is also extremely different in others. I love that I get to immerse myself in a new culture but that I will still have that common ground of language and such so that I will not be completely lost.

What is different about going to Australia however is that because their seasons are opposite of ours, their school year is as well. So technically I am going in my fall semester here at Carleton, but it will be their winter semester in Melbourne. Oh and it runs from July-Novemeber. Just to make it even more confusing. Which also means that I leave in 5 months, and I will be gone for 6 months all said and done. Because the plan is that since the semester only goes until mid November, I am going to take the next month before Christmas to backpack and travel around the country since December is summer time over there :) Perfect set up right? That's what I'm talking about!

And so now I sit here trying to study for midterms, but my mind is on the other side of the world. I can' believe how lucky and blessed I am to have this opportunity. I literally feel like I'm dreaming! I am so thankful to my incredible parents, who have always supported me and encouraged me to do this, and who were almost more excited than I was when I talked to them yesterday when I got the e-mail. I could no have done this all without having them behind me, and it means the world to me. That being said this also gives them an excuse to come to Australia, so it's looking like we might have a Hildesheim Christmas down under this year! Who knows :)

So here's to new adventures. To students going around the world. To all my family and friends that have helped me get here. To finally achieving my dream! I really could not be happier :) And my happy dance around the house yesterday for hours proves that one...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Drowning in Snow

So I think I have found my utopia. It's right here, in Whistler and I never want to leave! But seriously this place is amazing, for oh so many reasons.

Reason #1.
The snowboarding. Obviously. There is SO much mileage on the mountains here it is incredible! There is always somewhere new to go, somewhere where the powder is untracked and somewhere where the chair lift lines don't exist. There are incredible glades if you want to play in the trees, wide open bowls if you want some steeps and powder, groomed runs if you decide to be a boring tourist and every kind of backcountry and natural trails and conditions imaginable. What more could a girl ask for? Oh yeah and they've got demos at the top of the mountain so you can try out any board that your little heart desires. I rode a GNU B-Pro the other day and absolutely loved it. If I can come up with the money there may be a new snowboard in the future... Oh and did I mention that the double black runs here are the best things ever? Like trees, pitches, cliffs and all the good stuff. So much fun.
Reason #2
The scenery. This place is absolutely stunning. Even the drive here was gorgeous! There is something about the mountains that just can't be beat. Wether it be completely cloudy and only a few mountains poke through, or its a rare blue sky day and you can see for miles, it is incredible what surrounds you here. You are literally enclosed by mountains here, nestled into a valley with their tall protecting silhouettes towering over you. There just aren't words for how beautiful this place is so I'll try and show it through pictures...
High on life

Rare token blue sky day

Reason #3
The vibe. This place has the typical ski hill feel and atmosphere but on steroids. Every store and bar has ski racks outside of it, and it is completely acceptable to go anywhere in town in complete ski gear. I love it. Seriously snow pants and plaid shirts are basically the uniform, and the beer is all local and the taps never run dry. The people are all so chill and laid back, they just want to have a good time and lay down some fresh tracks. You could pretty much sit down at any table and strike up a conversation about anything skiing, snowboarding, outdoor or beer related and it would be completely fine. So easy to make new friends! This is also a common occurrence on gondolas and chair lifts. Everyone us just so refreshingly friendly, wether it be saying thank you to the bus driver or helping a little kid to carry his skis, the whistlerites have got it down. Even the shops and the bars manage to carry the same feel. There are so many awesomely unique ski and snowboard stores, each with that small town and personalized feel. They make up for all the overpriced brand name stores, but those are easy to just walk past! To sum it up, it's a village full of people who just love to ski/snowboard/be outside which is just the best of combinations. 

And that is where the list will have to end tonight because it is getting late and I plan to be on the first gondola up at 8:30 tomorrow morning. So bed time for me! But I will do a post on all the areas of the mountain that I've tackled and what they're all about, and add to that list as well :) Seriously can I please never leave here?